Struggling to successfully integrate cycling into your daily life? Feel that it's a constant battle to find time to jump in the saddle?
Rachel Fenton, who conquered the ABSA Cape Epic, a 7 stage mountain bike race, shares how she juggles her double life. Within 36 hours of finishing Cape Epic, Rachel was back in college, training to be an accountant, miles apart from the adrenaline rush of the trails in South Africa. Here's how she does it...
After cycling home from work, struggling to carry my bike up the two flights of stairs in my flat, I sometimes wonder, as I clamp it into the turbo trainer, pushing myself to complete my intervals, what the hell I’m doing?
Unfortunately, working as a trainee accountant, racing mountain bike marathons in the UK and Europe and living miles from the countryside are not natural bedfellows. Training in London inevitably means sitting on the turbo, looking longingly out over the hills of Kent and restraining myself from racing the other commuters.
When I was working towards the Cape Epic Stage Race a lot of people asked me how I was managing to fit in enough hours of training. It is a long-held misconception that you need to spend hours and hours on the road ‘getting the miles in’ to race effectively. Specificity can be just as effective as volume. I am a better rider now doing hour-long smash fests on the turbo than I ever was as a student doing 6-hour rides in the fens.
It’s not all about the turbo though, most weekends I escape the city and head for the hills. I visit friends or family and explore the highways and byways of the UK, getting my countryside fix and making sure to keep my mountain biking eye in. Sometimes there is a race to do, sometimes not, but there is always a bike in the car and friends at the other end of the journey.
Bike racing and riding makes it easy to find a community that you can fit into. When I moved from Cambridge, via Scotland to London I inevitably knew no-one. But after attending a few races and going on a few rides I have found a group of like-minded friends. They understand the madness of fitting in training, and since we’re all the same we never feel like we are missing out on anything.
Fitting everything in can require some real organisation, which is not so easy for a naturally haphazard person like me. It doesn’t always work. After I got back from South Africa, I was picked up from Heathrow by my better half who then drove home with my bike bag and suitcase. I bailed out at Pimlico tube station, stumbling into my accountancy class an hour late trying to get my head around Financial Management without falling asleep. Pushing myself to fit everything in meant I got sick. But the memories of the last adventure always keep me pushing towards the next one.
The joy of marathon mountain bike racing as a hobby is that holidays almost arrange themselves. We just look at the MarathonMTB calender, e-mail our racing friends and the next thing you know, we’re driving across France with a car full of bikes, singing Lana del Rey at the top of our lungs and looking for the next Maison de Paul.
The races are rarely in traditional tourist destinations so you get to see beautiful parts of the world most people never venture anywhere near. The only downside to this is the cost. The salaries of a trainee accountant and an early career academic don’t go very far, in London anyway, add in the bike racing and suddenly your wardrobe is full of hand-me-down clothes and event t-shirts, it's a shame they will never be suitable office attire.
It's tough sometimes, as my colleagues don’t really get it. It was once commented that I didn’t seem focused on work even though I was in the office (it must have been the Monday after a race). While wishing me luck when I’m heading off on a racing trip I still usually get asked: “but don’t you just want to go and hang out on a beach?" As time has gone on though, they have developed a kind of respect for my crazy adventures and always ask me how things have gone. Of course, there are times when I have to drop training sessions because of a report deadline, but thankfully this is a relatively rare occurrence.
At this point, you might think I would dream of being a professional racer with only training, resting and eating to think about. There are downsides to that life though. While we lived in Scotland, I was job free and had all the time in the world to ride my bike. Even though there was some of the UK's finest countryside on the doorstep it was often a struggle to get out the door. I needed something else to stimulate me and ended up quite depressed. Now, although I’m occasionally overwhelmed by a number of things I have to fit in, I’m certainly never bored.
Rachel's 5 tips for fitting it all in
1) Buy a diary (and use it!) - How to make a plan and stick to it
2) Realise that overliving = overtraining. Don't push yourself too much, working late means a guilt-free day off! Here are a few signs that indicate you need a rest day
3) Take public transport or drive to work once a fortnight. Cycle commuting is incredibly healthy but everyone needs a day off.
4) Eat healthily but make sure you enjoy what you eat and get as much fuel as your body needs. If that means you need a 3 pm can of coke or a ‘get me home’ chocolate bar then so be it.
5) The saying goes 'when life hands you a lemon, find a lobster to squeeze it on'. If the boss sends you to Switzerland, pack your bike. If friends are escaping for a few days, sling a bike in the car and go with them, they’ll understand - they’re your friends. Whatever the opportunity, make the most of it!